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Palmer's Mother Turns Him From Her Door

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Account of the Trials and Executions of Julius Palmer, John Gwin, and Thomas Askine


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Julius Palmer was the son of a merchant of excellent reputation, living in the city of Coventry. He received his early education at the public school of that place; after which he was sent to Oxford, where he graduated, and afterward was elected a fellow of Magdalene college, Oxford university.

As Palmer had been brought up a Romanist, he refused to conform to the religious changes made in the time of Edward VI; for which he was expelled from the college, and for some time supported himself by keeping a school at Oxford. On the accession of queen Mary, commissioners were sent to Magdalene college, to displace such officials as refused to acknowledge the pope. Palmer availed himself of this opportunity, and succeeded in getting back his fellowship.

It happened, however, during the time Palmer had been away from college, he had made the acquaintance of several leaders of the reformed party, and was so much impressed by their arguments that he began to doubt, himself, whether obedience to Rome was a necessary part of Christianity. when the persecution began, being a humane man, he became still more unsettled in his belief, and inquired, very particularly, into the cause of persons being arrested, the nature of the charges upon which they were condemned, the manner of their treatment, and their behavior at the time of their burning. So anxious was he to become fully informed on the subject, that he sent one of his pupils from Oxford to Gloucester, to see bishop Hooper's execution, and to bring him a full description of the dreadful scene.

Before this event Palmer was inclined to think that very few men would brave the fire for the sake of their religion. But when he had heard of Hooper's heroism, and been present at the examination of bishops Ridley and Latimer--an eye-witness of their faith, patience, and fortitude, even unto death--these scenes brought about an entire change in his belief. On his return from the scene of this execution, he was heard to say, "O raging cruelty! O barbarous tyranny!" From that very day he applied himself most earnestly to the study of the Scriptures, and at length became as zealous a worker in the ranks of the reformers as he had before been an opposer of them.

Palmer now began to absent himself from mass and other ceremonies of the church, but finding that his absence on these occasions caused many to suspect him, and desiring to avoid arrest, he resigned his fellowship. On his leaving the college, his friends got him a place as teacher in the grammar-school at Reading, in Berkshire; where he was much liked for the great pains he took with his pupils, and for his earnest Christian character.

But in course of time, some false friends gained Palmer's confidence; and as he was a man of frank and open temper, he freely declared to them his religious belief. This was reported to his enemies, who caused his library to be searched for heretical books, and finding some writings, both in Latin and English, which denounced religious persecution, they threatened to lay them before the queen's commissioners, unless he would quietly resign his place to a friend of their own. Palmer fearing imprisonment and even death if he refused, hastily fled from Reading, leaving behind him all his belongings, as well as the salary that was due him.

Being thus entirely destitute, Palmer went to Evesham, in Worcestershir, where his mother lived, hoping to obtain from her a legacy, which his father had left him at the time of his death four years before. But his mother was a heartless and bigoted woman, who hated the reformers, and dreaded above all things being accused of harboring heretics. She cared but little for her son, who had long been absent from home, and she had listened to the accounts brought about him with strong disapproval.

As soon as Palmer's mother saw him standing at her door, needy and forlorn, she motioned to him to go away, addressing him in these bitter words: "Get thee gone, heretic! Get thee gone!"

At first, Palmer was so amazed at this unexpected repulse from his own mother, that he could make not reply. But after he had collected himself a little, he said, "O mother, I have not deserved this!" His unnatural parent then cried, "Thou hast been banished for a heretic from the fellowship at Oxford, and for the like knavery hast thou been expelled from Reading too."

"Alas! mother," returned Julius, "you have listened to false reports about me. I was not expelled from college at Oxford, but I freely resigned my fellowship there. Heretic I am none, for I oppose not the true doctrine, but defend it with all my power." His mother then bitterly reproached him for not believing as his father and forefathers had done, and ordered him again to depart from the house, and never to call her his mother again, telling him at the same time, that he had no property there, either in money or goods, as his father had left nothing to heretics.

Palmer, finding that it was useless to look for aid or shelter there, turned sadly away. He was now homeless and destitute; and did not know where to get his next meal. At last, despairing of any other means of subsistence, he determined to return secretly to Magdalene college, depending on the fidelity of a few friends he had left in that house. He accordingly went there, and, through the kindness of one of them, named Allen Cope, a fellow of the college, he obtained the promise of a place as master of a school in Gloucestershire.

Before going to Gloucestershire Palmer determined to travel quietly to Reading, to try if he could get the salary due him, and at the same time sell the goods he had left there. But no sooner had he reached Reading, than his old enemies heard of his coming, and sent a man named Hampton, who had formerly professed himself a Protestant, but who was, in reality, a spy, to find out the cause of his return.

So Hampton, glad to play the traitor, went to see Palmer, who in his usual open-hearted and unsuspicious manner told him all his plans. His enemies were at once informed; they caused his arrest that very night, and he was taken to prison, where he remained ten days in the custody of a brutal jailer.

Palmer was then brought before the mayor of Reading for a hearing. In the course of his examination they extorted from him an acknowledgement of his faith, and proceeded against him for heresy. Charges were drawn up, and sent to Dr. Jeffrey at Newbery, who was to hold his court there on the Thursday following. The next day Palmer was taken to Newbery, together with one Thomas Askine, who also had been in prison for some time on account of his religion. Immediately on their arrival they were put in the Blind-house prison, where they found one John Gwin, who was also confined there for being of the reformed faith.

When Palmer was brought into court, Dr. Jeffrey, in the presence of several hundred spectators, said to him, "Master Palmer, we have received certain charges against you from the right worshipful the mayor of Reading, and other justices, whereby we understand that, being brought before them, you were convicted of certain heresies. You deny the supremacy of the pope's holiness; you say that the priest showeth up an idol at mass, and therefore you went to no mass since your first coming to Reading; you hold there is not purgatory; you are also charged with sowing sedition, and seeking to divide the unity of the queen's subjects." Several books and pamphlets were then produced, and Palmer was asked if he were the author of them. He replied that he was, and declared at the same time that they contained nothing but truths founded on the Bible.

Dr. Jeffrey, angered at Palmer's boldness, began to threaten him, and said he would soon find a way to make him recant his damnable errors and heresies. But Palmer told him, that if he and all his friends should exert their utmost efforts, they would not be able to make him change any part of his belief. After some further argument the court was adjourned. After dinner Sir Richard Abridges took Palmer aside, and in the presence of several persons begged him to change his opinions, and thus save his life. He promised him, at the same time, if he would agree to this, to take him into his family as his chaplain, and give him good wages.

Palmer heartily thanked Sir Richard for his kind offer, but assured him that he had already given up his living in two places., for the sake of Christ and his gospel, and was ready to yield up his life in defense of the same, "if God, in His good providence, should call him to it." When Sir Richard found he could by no means move him, he said, "Well, Palmer, I perceive that one of us two must be lost, for we are of two faiths, and there can be but one faith that leads to life and salvation." Palmer, smiling, said that it was possible they might both be saved, for as it had pleased God to call him at the third hour of the day, that is in the prime of life, at the age of twenty-four years, so in His infinite goodness He might graciously call others at the eleventh hour, or in old age, and give them an eternal inheritance among the saints in light. After this Palmer was sent back to prison to await the further orders of the court.

The next morning Palmer was brought out of prison again, and they tried to get him to sign a form of recantation, which he resolutely refused to do. Seeing further argument was useless, they called him an obstinate heretic and sentenced him to be burned. The other two prisoners, John Gwin and Thomas Askine, were also sentenced to meet death at the stake on the same day.

While in prison awaiting the day of execution, Palmer comforted his two fellow-sufferers, and strongly urged them to hold fast to the faith they had professed. On the day they were to die, about an hour before they were led to the stake, they were singing a psalm. The sheriff, with Sir Richard Abridges and the bailiffs of the town, came with great company of men in armor, to lead them to the fire. When the prisoners were come to the place of burning, they all three kneeled on the ground and prayed.

As soon as Palmer rose to his feet, two priests came behind him, urging him yet to recant and save his soul. Palmer answered and said, "Away! away! tempt me no longer." Then the martyrs took off their clothes, and went to the stake. And when they were bound to it, Palmer said, "Good people, pray for us, that we may persevere to the end." As he said this, a servant of one of the bailiffs threw a fagot in his face, wounding him so that the blood ran down. But the sheriff seeing this brutal act, ran up to the man who did it, calling him a cruel knave, and struck him such a blow with his staff as drew the blood from his own face.

When the fire was kindled, and began to take hold upon the bodies of the three martyrs, they lifted up their hands towards heaven, as quietly as though they felt no smart, and cried out, "Lord, strengthen us! Lord, receive our souls!" And so they continued without any struggle, holding up their hands and calling upon the Lord, until they ended their mortal lives.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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